Reforesting Scotland

Restoring the great Caledonian Forest

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Project Summary

In October 2019, we launched our reforesting Scotland project to restore the Caledonian forest in the Scottish Highlands. So far we’ve planted 6,000 native trees at Alladale Wilderness Reserve.

The reforesting Scotland project aims to restore and diversify the native pinewood habitat. Scots pine and downy birch saplings are being planted in open areas while less common food-producing broadleaf species are being planted in existing planting schemes to enrich and diversify the growing woodland. River banks are being planted with species such as alder and bird cherry to help stabilise the river bank and create vital riparian woodland habitat.

Project Timeline

October 2019

Our project is launched to restore the Caledonian woodlands with the planting of 3,000 trees.

December 2019

A rewilding vote is held to be carried out at our project area in Scotland. Mountain hare conservation is voted for and funding secured for eagle nest platform construction and Atlantic salmon monitoring.

The Ecosystem

Tree species

We plant Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris), downy birch (Betula pubescens), juniper (Juniperus communis), hazel (Corylus avellana), holly (Ilex aquifolium), European crab apple (Malus sylvestris), common hawthorn (Cratageus monogyna), alder (Alnus glutinosa), bird cherry (Prunus padus), Elder (Sambucus nigra) and Wych elm (Ulmus glabra).

Priority species

Twinflower (Linnea borealis), black grouse (Lyrurus tetrix), golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos), white-tailed eagle (Haliaeetus albicilla), red squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris), Scottish crossbill (Loxia scotica), pine marten (Martes martes) and Atlantic salmon (Salmon salar) are all present in the area.

An elder saplings held against a backdrop of heather. Elder is one of a diversity of species we plant in the Scottish Highlands.
Elder is one of a diversity of species we plant in the Scottish Highlands.

An Ancient Wilderness

Reversing centuries of ecological damage

Historically, much of the Scottish Highlands were covered in a forest of majestic Scots pine and colourful broadleaf trees, home to a diversity of plants and animals. Today, the landscape is largely devoid of these unique woodlands and many of the species that once thrived here have been lost. Our aim is to undo some of this damage and restore the empty glens and rewild the Scottish Highlands to rich, biodiverse, wild woodlands.

A red squirrel perches on a birch tree against a sunrise backdrop in the Scottish Highlands.
Red squirrels are one of the species that will benefit from more, better quality woodland habitat

A Unique Habitat

What makes this ecosystem special?

The Scottish pinewoods are a globally unique habitat due to the absence of any other conifer tree, other than Scots pine, within the woodland. These woodlands support some of the UK’s rarest plant and animal species like the beautiful and delicate twinflower, the elusive wildcat and the impressive capercaillie. Restoring native woodlands in all their beautiful complexity will help return Scotland to wilder, richer state that a variety of species, including humans, can enjoy.

The understory of a Scottish pinewood and a glimpse of what the great Caledonian forest would have looked like.
Scottish pinewoods are a globally unique habitat

The Threats

Climate change

At the end of the last Ice Age, much of the Scottish Highlands were covered in woodland, mainly composed of Scots pine and birch. Around 4,000 years ago, the climate began to change. The natural tree line lowered, peat bogs expanded and woodland cover began to decline.


At around the same time, humans began to significantly change the landscape around them. Trees were felled to make room for crops and graze livestock, to harvest timber and fuelwood. By the 1700s, the great Caledonian Forest was reduced to small, isolated pockets of the Highlands. Much of the wildlife that thrived here, like lynx, bears and wolves, were lost.


In the 18th and 19th century, when much of the landscape had already been cleared of forests, estate owners began to clear the land of people. Known as the Highland Clearances, local people were forcibly evicted from their homes, entire villages were cleared, to make way for sheep grazing. Today, a combination of sheep farming, unsustainable numbers of deer and intensive land management for sporting purposes is restricting the ability of native woodlands to regenerate on their own. Reforestation with native species is therefore vital to restore this unique habitat.

A herd of red deer stand against a backdrop of autumnal hills in the Scottish Highlands.
High densities of deer in the Scottish Highlands are preventing woodlands from regenerating by browsing young saplings
Heart Image

the team behind the project

Team Member

Hannah Kirkland, Conservation Biologist at Mossy Earth

Team Member

Innes MacNeill, Reserve Manager at Alladale Wilderness Reserve

Team Member

Planting Team at Alexander Forestry

Sources & further reading

Peer Reviewed Research Section
  1. This is the potential CO2 sequestered in above ground biomass in the Scottish Highlands over a period of 100 years - Trees for LifeExternal link
  2. Rewilding–a new paradigm for nature conservation in Scotland? - Taylor & Francis OnlineExternal linkIcon Peer Review
  3. Divergent visions of wildness and naturalness in a storied landscape: Practices and discourses of rewilding in Scotland’s wild places - Science DirectExternal linkIcon Peer Review
  4. Diversifying native pinewoods using artificial regeneration - Oxford AcademicExternal linkIcon Peer Review
  5. Wolf reintroduction to Scotland: public attitudes and consequences for red deer management - The Royal Society PublishingExternal linkIcon Peer Review